We used shoe polish to cover up our brush cuts - ex Pretoria school pupil

2016-08-30 17:00
Pupils from Pretoria High School for Girls. (News24)

Pupils from Pretoria High School for Girls. (News24)

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'It's not only about hair' - Pretoria Boys High School parent

2016-08-30 14:10

A parent of a student at Pretoria Boys' High School said the issues the students face are not limited to hair.WATCH

Pretoria – Former pupils of the Pretoria High School for Girls class of 2003 said on Tuesday that they had to use black shoe polish to cover up their "brush cut" hairstyles.   

"We laugh now, but we didn't get what brainwashing was involved to even think it's okay to do that," Ntombiyoxolo Musonda, who was a 2003 matriculant, said.

Another former pupil, Kopano Marumo, who also matriculated in 2003, said black pupils' hair was constantly policed. 

"We were told that our hair needed to be neat. That was the term they used," Marumo said. 

Marumo said she had relaxed hair when she attended the school, and that as a black pupils they never felt good enough. 

"We were really oppressed as black pupils, but at the end you felt proud to attend such a competitive school," she said. 

The public school was facing pupils' wrath after black girls were allegedly told to straighten their hair.

According to the school’s 36-page Code of Conduct, pupils can wear braids, cornrows or dreadlocks, but only if they are a maximum of 10mm in diameter.

'We are emboldened and inspired by their brave stance'

All hair has to be brushed, neatly tied back, if long enough, and kept out of the face. No patterned cornrows are allowed. Longer braids have to be tied back.

No decorations or beads are allowed in the hair.

"Singles/braids must be the same length and be the natural colour of the girl’s hair. Longer braids must be tied back."

Nowhere does the code specifically forbid an afro hairstyle.

The girls, however, claimed that school rules forbade African hairstyles such as afros, bantu knots, dreadlocks, and braids.

They alleged that they were not allowed to speak their mother tongue and that a teacher called them monkeys when they were singing and chanting in class.

More than 80 alumni of the school said in a statement on Tuesday that they stood in solidarity with the current pupils.

"We are emboldened and inspired by their brave and principled stance in upholding the values the school was established on," the group of former pupils said in a signed statement.

'You have inspired us'

They said the founding headmistress, Edith Aitken, had established the school with the honourable goal of educating young women to leave a mark on the world, shape agendas and fight for equitable change.

"Girls, we are with you in spirit, minds and bodies, and we assure you that as Old Girls you have all of our support," they said.

The group of former pupils is made up of lawyers, academics, psychologists, doctors, teachers and nurses.

They offered their guidance, assistance and practical services.

"Call on us if you need to, but remember also: you have inspired us. There is much we’d like to learn from you, too."

On Monday, Gauteng Education MEC Panyaza Lesufi launched an investigation at the school. 

"I'm officially appointing an independent investigation body to investigate all the allegations levelled against certain educators, events of the 26 and 27 [August] and all issues that learners felt border on racism and all related matters," Lesufi told reporters.

"I'm giving this committee 21 days to conclude their business and to provide a preliminary report. On the basis of that report, I will discuss it with the SGB [school governing body] and agree on a way forward."

'Courage at their young age'

Desré Barnard, who also matriculated in 2003, said the pupils, through their protest, had brought together many former pupils of the school.

"These young women have had the courage at their young age that most of us have never had, nor ever will have," Barnand told News24.

Barnard said she supported the principle of the protest, as well as speaking out against institutional racism and the continued oppression of women in general, specifically black women. 

However, Barnard said there was no clear picture that had emerged about the entire incident.

"What we have seen in the media has been emotionally charged, and not as balanced as one would hope. We cannot discredit the voices and experiences of these victims, because their experiences are real," she said.

Nkhensani Banda, who was part of the class of 2003, said she did not perceive outright racism, but felt in hindsight that her experience and time there was carefree and easy because she assimilated well. 

Banda said she fully supported the group of pupils.

"They are conscious, right now, of how these seemingly 'conservative' rules are designed and fashioned to legislate, assimilation into producing the young (white) polite girls of the school's founding aspirations," she said.

Read more on:    pretoria  |  education  |  racism

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